<![CDATA[umami and fat - Umami and Fat Blog]]>Mon, 07 Dec 2015 08:53:36 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Nukadoko Beginnings]]>Fri, 21 Aug 2015 20:54:51 GMThttp://umamiandfat.weebly.com/umami-and-fat-blog/nukadoko-beginnings-and-summerThe Privilege of Pickling
It is my utmost pleasure to carry out a task requested of me by the chef where I work, which is to prepare a nuka pot or nukadoko.  This is in preparation for an event we're doing with another chef, one of whose specialties is preserving foods in various Japanese traditions.  In fact, Nancy Singleton Hachisu has just released a new book on the subject, titled Preserving The Japanese Way, and I unabashedly purport that it is one of the most valuable resources on the vast subject of Japanese preservation methods to be published yet.  This kind of detailed information and story is difficult to find, especially in English, and I am humbled to get to participate in the preparation of preserved foods, if even in a satellite way, with this very interesting and highly informed individual.  

Japan has perhaps the most sophisticated array of pickling methods, and I've always wanted to try making pickles with nuka.  Nuka is rice bran, or the chaff left over from milling the rice grain out of its rough husk.  Nukazuke is the process of picking with nuka.  Pickling with it involves creating the aforementioned nukadoko, or nuka pot. by moistening the rice bran with a salt brine, then adding various ingredients to grow the flora responsible for the unique flavors of nuka pickles.  I followed Singleton Hachisu's recipe to the tee, and am on day 3 of its preparation.  

To begin, I prepared a strong salt brine and let it cool, while I gently warmed the rice bran in iron pans to parch it of its moisture.  I left the rice bran to cool, then added it to the biggest mixing bowl in the kitchen.  The brine was poured in, and the two were mixed together to form a wet mash.  Per the recipe, miso (I can't tell a lie: the recipe calls for brown rice miso and all I had was soybean miso, so I pray this isn't a grave mistake) was mixed in, pieces of konbu and some dried red chiles were added, and then some koji rice was sprinkled in, which is recommended to diversify the flora in the nuka, and eventually the flavors in the pickles.  Day by day I've been adding little bits of vegetable scraps, mostly cucumber ends, along with some baby carrots that were pulled out of the garden to thin the carrot bed.  Currently the mash is tasting very salty, as well as grainy, like the discarded mash from a beer brew.  Each day it tastes a little different, a bit more mature, and a bit more evolved.  In one week's time it's said to be ready to make the nuka pickles.  

The idea behind nuka is to bury vegetables in this flavor and bacteria-rich substrate, and let them sit for between 8 and 24 hours.  In that time the nuka infuses the vegetables with its flavor, and also seems to leach out some moisture from them.  After 8-12 hours in the nuka, the vegetables that I've been adding are very moist, very salty, and slightly wilted.  I trust that my nukadoko's flavor profile will change and morph over time.

In the beginning it seemed difficult, complex, and daunting, as the nuka needs to be turned at least once a day to keep from spoiling.  After starting the nuka project, however, it seems that there are indeed complex forces at work, but in a relatively simple process.  I certainly hope that I'm doing it right.  It is said that a nukadoko properly tended can last and produce delicious pickles for generations.
<![CDATA[The Seasons Cycle On...]]>Mon, 10 Aug 2015 01:45:47 GMThttp://umamiandfat.weebly.com/umami-and-fat-blog/the-seasons-cycle-onNocino
Sometimes the bounty of summer comes too quickly to be harnessed, and I was reminded of this last year after wanting to make the green walnut liqueur nocino.  Picking walnuts too late means that the husk inside their green casing becomes too rigid to slice, so they must be harvested early in their development.  In certain European countries, the cutoff date is June 24th.  In keeping with tradition, I paid attention to the calendar and began scouring some of Santa Rosa's generous walnut trees in the neighborhood.  Black walnuts are not used for nocino, as their higher tannin content makes them painfully annoying to deal with.  They stain anything they touch, including hands and fingers, which will be an unpleasant yellow-brown tinge for days and days to come.  English walnuts are the choice insisted for nocino recipes.  They stain too, but nowhere near the same degree.  The walnuts should be easy to slice through, or be "pierced through with a sewing needle" as many makers declare.    

The process of making many liqueurs is quite easy, and usually involves no more than steeping the main flavor ingredients in grain alcohol, sugar, and spices or herbs.  Nocino is known for its notes of warm of baking spices, and countless recipes include clove, cinnamon, and citrus peel.  Wanting instead to accent the green notes in the liqueur, I opted for a very small amount of fennel seeds, coriander seeds, lemon peel, and orange peel.  
It's time to strain and bottle the nocino, now that it has steeped for the prescribed 40-45 days.  There is variation among the recommended steeping times, within about a two week range.  The liqueur should last for years, and is to be in bottle for at least one year before it is best enjoyed.  Nature waits for no one.   

Once In A While, Getaways

When one is graced with the gift of time off of work, wanderlust can creep in, sated only by removing one's self from regular surroundings.  The draw of a good cocktail can dictate which direction to travel.  

Measurably, the best Bloody Marys can be found at the San Gregorio General Store, just off of Highway 1 in a sleepy old outpost surrounded by pleasantly lonesome farmland.  With unpretentious ingredients in perfect proportion, the San Gregorio Bloody Mary is truly legendary.  There's no gregarious garnish and no non-traditional ingredients, just the classic as it's meant to exist.  
The most perfect Bloody Mary ever, enjoyed at the delightful San Gregorio General Store.
Shelves full of useful ingredients at any bar, home or away.
Delicious beer is as good a reason as any for travel, and Sante Adairius Rustic Ales lures many the drinker to its casual tap room in Capitola, CA.  The list is comprised of all-grain beers brewed in American and European styles.  Saisons are delicate and earthy, and ales have approachable malt profiles.  All beers seem to be hopped with elegance and precision, as opposed to the overbearingly sweet and bitter brews found in too many California watering holes.  Bring your own food to the tap room if you like, and be ready to pet plenty of friendly dogs.  
Simple, elegant, and glorious beers are poured in the Sante Adairius tap room in Capitola, CA.

Gardens at Full Tilt

Now fully in the swing of summer gardening, many cooking and pickling projects are underway in the Umami and Fat kitchen.  This year has brought many new plants to the garden to taste and play with, as well as the easy-to-grow classics that produce prolifically throughout the long warm season.  

Below is a photograph of the most recent haul from the backyard.  Everything pictured was grown by my mother or myself.  It's pretty unbelievable what can be produced from a little garden with diligence and consistent effort, and also extremely satisfying.
A day's picking from the garden: Beet greens, yellow wax beans, carrots, garlic, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, blackberries, parsley, tarragon, basil, salad burnet, and fragrant roses.
The first cucumbers went straight into a 3% brine with dill, garlic, and peppercorns, where they fermented for just under two weeks.  They are superbly savory and crunchy treats, while the others have been offering their mild, cool flavor to many batches of gazpacho.
With most of my pickling equipment in use at the restaurant, I decided to gamble on a Weck jar with its plastic lid to ferment some cucumbers, and to my delight, they did beautifully in the simple setup.
In these last long and warm weeks, there hasn't been much drive to mix complex cocktails.  Simple glasses of white and lightly chilled red wines have been the go-tos around here.  However, a fresh bottle of whiskey begs a proper tasting, and the fresh peaches from Dry Creek in Healdsburg with blackberries from the backyard became a galette, in perfect harmony with rich sherry.
This 2 year Straight Rye whiskey from Kentucky's Willett Distillery has aromas and flavors ranging from green wood to sweet caramel.
Pâte Brisée pie dough holds local peaches and blackberries. The fruit is enhanced by a small amount of sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla extract.

Still We Wait

As abundant as garden offerings currently are, the waiting is not over.  Pepper plants are long to produce, and I anxiously await what looks to be a plentiful crop of Fresno chiles.  New bean seeds have sprouted near where the old ones were this year, after the plants were decimated by hungry birds.  They too love heirloom vegetables.  

Autumn and winter projects ideas are brewing, and looking ahead in the year brings motivation and preparation, but for now, it's frequent trips to the yard to harvest herbs and vegetables, to ensure an enduring harvest for the summer season. 
Inside a heavy bag of vegetables freshly plucked from the sunny garden, cucumbers, garlic, carrots, yellow wax beans, tomatoes and herbs await their culinary destiny.
My mother has gotten great at growing root vegetables, to no surprise. White onions and Detroit Red beets became beet relish, her favorite condiment from New Zealand.
<![CDATA[Fermentation Workshop]]>Tue, 19 May 2015 22:12:41 GMThttp://umamiandfat.weebly.com/umami-and-fat-blog/fermentation-workshopSuccess!  
Our first staff fermentation workshop was a blast!  The casual environment of the restaurant is the ideal learning forum, providing an experience that's informational, yet light-hearted.  It's very exciting to launch this new idea, and better yet to have more like it to look forward to in the future.  Here are some photos from the event:
Small classes work well for engaging conversation and detailed answers to common questions on making fermented vegetables.
Breanna's lovely nails will surely help to produce a delicious, healthy sauerkraut.
Left: Locally grown carrots fermenting with aromatics Right: Fresh sauerkraut is the most beautiful pastel spring green
Bright orange baby carrots from Bernier Farms in Geyserville perfectly complement our chef David's ever-colorful presence.
Vibrant and naturally fermented pickles are served during our workshops. Left: Pickled homegrown carrots Top middle: 7-week sauerkraut from homegrown cabbage Right: Bernier Farms Scarlet Queen turnips with garlic and ginger Bottom middle: Curtido with cabbage, shallots, carrots, dried habanero, fresh oregano, and fresh cilantro.
Waning sunlight sets the restaurant aglow every evening, accenting a fresh batch of naturally fermented local carrots.
Equipment, tools, and recipes are included in our workshops.
<![CDATA[Helpful and Interesting Articles on Vegetable Fermentation]]>Sun, 17 May 2015 05:40:34 GMThttp://umamiandfat.weebly.com/umami-and-fat-blog/helpful-and-interesting-articles-on-vegetable-fermentationTo find out more about what's going on in your jar or crock after preparing a ferment, visit the links below for interesting reading.  I especially appreciate the information in the second link on when best to pluck a cabbage for the most delicious sauerkraut.
Admiring the brine beginning to emerge from sliced and salted homegrown cabbage. I also always admire the pottery made by my father.
Kimchi, left, and beet kvass on the right.
<![CDATA[Cocktail of the Moment: The Mai Tai]]>Sun, 17 May 2015 05:24:41 GMThttp://umamiandfat.weebly.com/umami-and-fat-blog/cocktail-of-the-moment-the-mai-tai
I need not go into detail about the demise of this drink following its perfectly noble origin, as plenty have done before.  The original cocktail is balanced, citrusy, rich with a lush almond syrup called orgeat, and mysterious in aroma due to rum's inherent complexity.  What a shame that this cocktail is relatively strong, as it seems to be best enjoyed during daylight hours.  Sipping one at sunset brings the ideal compromise.  Here is a link about the original recipe, a bright and thirst-quenching legend.  Finding the proportions in the classic to be bracing in alcohol heat and in citrus acidity, I adapted the recipe to suit my personal taste preference.  

Mai Tai
  • 1 ¾ ounces dark rum, as good as you can get (Vic preferred Jamaican and aged)
  • ¾ ounce fresh lime juice
  • scant ½ ounce orange curaçao
  • scant ½ ounce orgeat
  • 1 barspoon simple syrup
Pour the ingredients into a shaker tin and add ice.  Stir gently for several seconds, then cap the tin, and shake vigorously.  Double-strain into an ice filled tumbler, and garnish with a beautiful mint sprig.  Add an ostentatious flower if you have one, and drift away to far-off places and better times.
<![CDATA[Projects, Lately]]>Sun, 17 May 2015 04:56:56 GMThttp://umamiandfat.weebly.com/umami-and-fat-blog/projects-latelyMeyer Lemon Limoncello
I love a good glut of something delicious from the garden.  This year the Meyer lemon season seemed especially long and giving.  Toward the end of April, a beloved customer brought me a large bag of Meyer lemons from her tree, an occurrence I secretly hope for each winter.  Having divulged to me her love of limoncello, it seemed appropriate to make a batch in return for her generous gift.  The recipe from Imbibe Magazine is straightforward and simple.

Teaching Fermentation

June 1st 2015 marks the first in a series of workshops I'll be teaching at The Spinster Sisters restaurant here in Santa Rosa.  The first workshop will cover the basics of fermenting vegetables in a home kitchen. I prepared a few fermented goodies to share with the participants in the class, and they're currently bubbling and fizzing away on the countertop.
Left to right: traditional sauerkraut, ginger beer, and whole brined homegrown carrots.  
Curtido is a Latin American-style cabbage and vegetable ferment.  It is vibrant and colorful, and sometimes contains hot chilies, aromatic herbs, and spices.  Here, fresh cilantro and oregano brighten and deepen the overall flavor.
Fermentation Workshop poster by übermammoth talent Catherine Sieck
<![CDATA[Wild Mushroom Season]]>Mon, 05 Jan 2015 19:21:46 GMThttp://umamiandfat.weebly.com/umami-and-fat-blog/wild-mushroom-season
     Coral fungus juts skyward from the forest floor, sentinels at the gateway to the woods.  Little thin fingers crawl out of the blanket of fallen leaves, like winter-white antlers, at the base of redwood trees.  As they mature, they begin to yellow, indicating the possible age of the other fungi you may find.  Their presence promises that more mushrooms are around if you dare to search within.  
     In terms of wild and cultivated foods and seasons, this time of year is just as fruitful as any pulsating summer garden if you know where to look.  Knowing where to look brings both bounty and battle - as it happens, a lot of people know where to look, and that can be a very disappointing reality when scouring beneath the trees for mushrooms, only to be tricked by discarded orange peels (to the eager eye, they sometimes look like golden chanterelles from a distance), tramping over snapped branches, and finding discarded mushroom ends from hunters who beat you to it.  It’s a painful sight to see toadstools kicked over out of curiosity and lack of reverence.  A simple touch beneath the cap of a mushroom can often tell you what you want to know; I call it mushroom braille.  Feeling for gills, pores, or teeth means that many mushrooms can fulfill their life’s cycle instead of being prematurely uprooted, dismissed, and cast aside.  I sigh and shake my head, and scuffle along over the fallen pine needles, eyes directed downward.  
     For the last two years, the mushrooms in this area have been reluctant to grow due to serious lack of rainfall.  The last couple of seasons were so fruitless, that only the very dedicated foragers claimed to have had good yields.  They must have also had  plentiful time on their hands.  This year, however, they “practically jump into the car with you,” as the woman issuing picking permits put it.  Almost all of the mushrooms I’ve picked this year have been within a short distance from the road.  In a new area, or “spot”, I found a pound in under forty minutes.  That’s impressive to me, but perhaps not to some, especially knowing that much more efficient picking is possible given these conditions.  
     At the end of the day, victory is often celebrated in a remote location with a couple of cold beers and some time to eye the haul.  Clothes and boots are caked in mud in various shades of brown, and pine needles have ended up in the deepest threads of your garments and beyond.  There are sticks and leaves in your hair, you are hungry (of course you brought beer but no food), a bit cold, and you are loving every moment of it.  Even if mushrooms were scant, the day was still spent walking in the forest, which can’t exactly be filed away as a loss.  If mushrooms were abundant, you are slightly daunted by the thought of what to do with all of them.  You will soon likely have a full dehydrator and some very happy friends.  Even better, you may have sparkly-eyed chefs willing to trade or pay you for your gettings.  It’s an all around winner of a way to spend a day off, no matter which way you cut it.  
     The car’s windows fog up with moisture from the cool, damp mushrooms in the back seat.  It smells like apricots, tree sap, and spice.  The aroma from freshly picked mushrooms is heady, complex, and deeply alluring.  It coats the olfactory and when I fully breathe in the fragrance, I temporarily  lose consciousness, eyes fluttering.  After they’ve been refrigerated, although they keep remarkably well, that fragrance dissipates.  It is a treat to savor it after a long day of picking.
     The season will last until the end of winter, when the yields dwindle to the likes of a few yellowfoots, dry hedgehogs, and a black trumpet or two.  Then, wait patiently for autumn, for rain and sun.  Trips to the forest will result in dry silence until then, save for the crackling footsteps over softly laden dry leaves.  Wait then to see the coral, that modest harbinger of heavy baskets of exquisite and desirable mushrooms, for which you would happily wait all year, because you will, and you must.  

<![CDATA[Fermentation!]]>Wed, 22 Oct 2014 17:22:24 GMThttp://umamiandfat.weebly.com/umami-and-fat-blog/fermentation      I adore the flavor of lacto-fermented vegetables for the umami-rich, salty, and briny flavors that they take on.  With great success (and a few failures) in making traditional sauerkraut, kimchi, and the like, I decided to step my game up and get airlocks for mason jars, meaning less babysitting of the vessels in which vegetables are happily bubbling away.       
      What is lacto-fermentation?  It is the process by which traditional pickles and sauerkrauts are prepared, to name the more familiar examples.  Basically, by treating vegetables with a moderate amount of salt, either directly or by submerging in a brine, lactobacillus and other lactic acid-producing bacteria flourish over time, and ferment the sugars in the vegetable.  The lactic acid in the ferment is what creates the pleasantly sour, salty and briny flavors.  The solution is also acidic enough to prohibit growth of undesirable bacteria.  Lactobacilli are anaerobic and require protection from oxygen, which is why it is necessary to keep them completely submerged in liquid.  Conveniently, this process also preserves the vegetables for long periods of time, helpful before the advent of refrigeration and canning, or where growing seasons are short.
      Currently in the fridge are four different ferments from last winter, with no signs of molding or going off in any way.  There have been small bubbles between the layers of shredded vegetables, indicating that bacterial activity is still present even at refrigeration temperature.  
      Fermented in glazed ceramic crocks and dishes that my father made, these krauts, kimchis and curtidos were prepared without official weights or airlocks; to me this means that fermentation of vegetables is a friendly and forgiving process.  If the process is begun with the appropriate clean, sanitized, and intact equipment, clean produce of noble origin, and uses the correct ratio of salt, it is likely to end in success.  
That being said, it isn't true that all foods with no signs of spoilage are safe.  While I believe the risk is low, it is rational to be informed about spoilage, and to be reasonably vigilant during preparation of ferments; however, it also seems difficult to cock up a method that has existed for eons and can be executed properly even when weighing down fermenting vegetable matter with sticks and stones. 
      Health claims on eating lacto-fermented products abound, especially in a time when consuming probiotics is still very trendy, and include statements such as: 

  • lacto-fermentation increases the vitamin content of vegetables

  • makes vegetables more digestible

  • increases growth of positive intestinal flora and therefore improves intestinal health

  • alkalises blood

  • flushes toxins from the body

      This is convenient, supportive information for those of us who simply prepare and eat these foods because the process is interesting and the results are delicious.  It is also a relatively inexpensive (we’re talking vegetables and salt here) and rewarding hobby, as the ferments usually span weeks’ time to complete, and can be enjoyed for weeks and months to come.  
      Shown here are three preparations that are new to me, inspired by the house-fermented pickles at Penrose restaurant in Oakland, and a visit to Michigan which led to furthering my fermentation interests.  Expect more information on edible and drinkable ferments here at Umami and Fat, as each corner of the kitchen boasts some little creature fulfilling its mysterious but delectable destiny.

      For more information on fermentation, visit Sandor Katz's website, wildfermentation.com
      Also, these folks stay up on their vegetable ferments and provide inspiration for the fermentation kitchen:  The Brinery in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Hex Ferments in Baltimore, Maryland.

<![CDATA[Cocktail of the Moment: The Old Bay Ridge]]>Tue, 26 Aug 2014 21:13:32 GMThttp://umamiandfat.weebly.com/umami-and-fat-blog/cocktail-of-the-moment-the-old-bay-ridgePicture
     Begin an internet search for Aquavit cocktails, and you will come across many Bloody Mary variations, as well as booze aficionados who are frustrated with the lack of creative approach to the Scandinavian spirit.  An interesting liquor alone with its herbaceous characteristics, it begs to be mixed into something that would showcase the unique aromas of anise and caraway, while incorporating its inherent sweetness and pleasant wood tones.  
     Early into my drinking career and knowing only little of the flavors of Aquavit, my first experience with it was also in a Bloody Mary.  Today, however, the union of tomato and the cooling spices in Aquavit seem at best to be lazy, and at worst, dissonant.
     Enter the Old Bay Ridge, courtesy of David Wondrich.  Blending equal parts of Aquavit and rye whiskey with golden Demerara sugar syrup and anointed with Angostura bitters, the ingredients in the Old Bay Ridge combine to offer fragrances and flavors of cigar box, resinous tree bark, medicine cabinet, spice rack, and warm hearth.  Perhaps those descriptors are high on the ladder of abstraction, but the particular and complex notes in this drink elude easy classification.  
     By the end of the modest beverage, you’ve appreciated the marriage of the treen rye whiskey with the botanical beauty of the Aquavit in the same way that one might love Wondrich’s inspiration for the beverage: caraway-studded Jewish rye bread.  This drink is also said to have been inspired by the cultural drinks of choice of the once-residents of Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge neighbourhood.  Simple but clever, the man delivers when it comes to satiating cocktail curiosity.
      The cool summer evenings enrobed in fog that have been haunting this season crave drinks like the Old Bay Ridge, which is a perfect liaison to the darker, cozy cocktails on the horizon as autumn creeps in.  

Old Bay Ridge from David Wondrich

1 ½ oz Linie Aquavit

1 ½ oz Rittenhouse Rye

1 teaspoon Demerara syrup

2 dashes of Angostura Bitters

Lemon twist

Combine ingredients in Old-Fashioned glass with one large ice cube and stir until chilled.  Twist a large piece of lemon zest over the drink and drop into the glass.

From “The Old-Fashioned: The Story Of The World's First Classic Cocktail” by author Robert Simonson

<![CDATA[Lately:  Photos]]>Wed, 20 Aug 2014 18:07:22 GMThttp://umamiandfat.weebly.com/umami-and-fat-blog/lately-photos     A little over a year ago, my dear camera suffered a drop from a great height, destroying the lens and leaving me to chisel off of my boyfriend's gear for far too long.  Luckily, the camera's body survived without injury, but the lens now sounds like an instrument of percussion and is thoroughly buggered.  Being the big girl that I am, I got meself a brand new lens and have been shooting everything in front of me.  It's hard to get a bad shot with this wee 50mm.  Stoked.